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Can a phone app be an alternative to hormonal birth control?

Mid Morning Mix // Science & Technology // Dec. 1, 2016

Sure, our phones are so much more than just phones. We manage our calendars on our devices; we watch movies, we book flights; we can track our steps, our heart rates and sleep patterns. But could we use our phones as a method of contraception? And can we really trust the accuracy when there are some pretty significant consequences? This is instilling quite some responsibility into our loyal pocket devices. 

Elina Berglund Scherwitzl and her husband Raoul Scherwitzl have created an algorithm that can track a user's fertility to a startling degree of accuracy and if users follow the advice given by the phones for 'safe' and 'non-safe' days, the algorithm has a 99% success rate in preventing pregnancy.


Firstly, we should probably explain that Elina Berglund Scherwitzl was on the team of scientists at CERN that found the Higgs Boson, so saying she knows her way around data is an understatement. But algorithms and data analysis have different applications. Elina shares her own personal story that drove her to create the software, now known as Natural Cycles.

The software takes a user's temperature data and uses this to determine whether a woman is fertile or not on any specific day. 

Elina tells WRS that a typical user is someone that doesn’t want to use hormonal birth control, or someone that has had negative side effects with hormonal birth control and is looking for alternatives. It can also be used when a woman wants to become pregnant to highlight days when she is the most fertile. 

Over 100,000 users have downloaded this from iTunes or Google Play so far and subscribe to the service, which does have a monthly fee to use. 

Elina explains how it all works and we compare the success rates, when used as birth control, to commonly used contraceptions. Elina also explains why it can't be classed as a 'contraceptive', but rather a 'fertility aid', although this may change with an audit that's currently underway.

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